Steam tables are used by caterers, hotels, buffets, cafeterias, and anyone else who needs to dish out a delicious spread of hot food to serve a crowd of hungry guests while maintaining safe hot food temperatures. These tables hold hot food at ideal serving temperatures either through moist or dry heating, depending on whether or not water is used in the pan.

The popularity of steam tables among businesses in the foodservice industry has helped to grow the market, and presently, there are different styles to choose from to fit your culinary and budgetary needs. You only have to consider how you intend using your table and choose one that fits your specific needs.

Note that to keep food warm, steam tables heat water to produce steam that gently heats the food pans. This method provides even heating to make sure all of the food pans are kept at the expected temperature. Have it in mind that both sealed and open well steam tables can use moist heating, which involves using water to create steam to heat the pans from beneath. Only open well steam tables can use dry heating, which is the process of heating the pans without water.

Open well steam table units are quite versatile, as they’re able to make use of both moist and dry heating on the same table at the same time. Dry heat is good for holding fried foods and other crispy menu items. While sealed steam tables are not meant to be used for dry heat holding.

If convenience is the most important factor for you, the ease of cleaning a sealed well unit makes it an ideal option. Its built-in drain limits the need for spillage pans, which saves time on cleanup and makes them ideal for high volume use. However, if your menu consists of soups, rice, veggies, various pasta dishes, and other non-crispy options, then a sealed well steam table may be the right choice for you.

What are the Best Types of Commercial Steam Table for Restaurants?

Hot food is the key priority in nearly every restaurant, and you’ll need the right tools to ensure that it stays that way. Nonetheless here are top steam tables to consider for your restaurant.

  1. Vollrath ServeWell

A regular fixture in large-scale culinary operations, the Vollrath ServeWell (about $1934) is the standard by which many others are judged. Note that this steam table is made mostly of durable stainless steel and, like most of the company’s products; it’s incredibly well built and dependable.

  1. Wells SS-206TDU

This steam table is specifically designed for installation in the table of your choice. The Wells SS-206TDU (around $497) can add exceptional functionality to any professional kitchen or dining area. Note that each unit accommodates one full-size hotel pan, and is controlled using a fully UL-certified thermostat.

  1. Vollrath Cayenne

This steam table is meant for drop-in installation in an existing countertop. Note that the Vollrath Cayenne (approx. $321) is a great way to add hot holding to any commercial kitchen. Its basin is built of resilient resin, and it features reliable hardwiring, as well as infinite-style heat control.

  1. Advance Tabco B4

If you’re outfitting a new or remodelled restaurant, the Advance Tabco B4 (about $1984) is worth a look. Note that this freestanding appliance is meant for guest self service, and its locking casters make it easy to wheel out of the way when the work day is done.

  1. Adcraft ST-240

Designed to streamline back-of-house operations, the Adcraft ST-240 (approx. $1117) has a food-safe cutting board along its front edge, allowing workers to finalize dishes without stepping away from the line. It heats up in a jiffy, thanks to four 750-watt elements.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Commercial Steam Table

Steam tables, sometimes referred to as hot food tables, serve to keep food warm and at set serving temperatures. They are not designed to cook or warm foods up from unsafe or uncooked temperatures, but rather to hold at steady temps during serving. However, the process of shopping for the right steam table for a restaurant can be a challenging task, but here are few factors to keep in mind:

  1. Size and Well Shape

You will have to consider the number, size, and shape of the wells you require before shopping. Steam wells come in a number of standard sizes, most of which are intended to accommodate hotel pans (or fractions of hotel pans, such as 4/3 sized).

However, there are a number of circular shaped wells that are meant to hold inserts ranging from 4 to 11 qt. Depending on the needs of your operation or restaurant, there is a chance that a conglomeration of different shaped and sized wells will be required. So before shopping, it is imperative that the variety of different menu items be taken into consideration, as well as the different shapes of inserts that they will be stored in.

  1. Location

Also note that the place a steam table will be placed in your restaurant is a very crucial factor when making your decision. Steam tables located in different areas will have different accessories, and may need to look different.

For instance, steam tables located on a kitchen line is not expected to be as elegant as steam tables located on a FOH buffet. Businesses acquiring steam tables for the FOH should be getting steam tables that are more presentable than standard stainless steel wells, or built-in steam wells that can be custom tailored to fit in with furniture and décor.

Built-in steam wells are also ideal for BOH lines that don’t usually have the room for a freestanding steam table, although countertop warmers can be an adequate replacement should building wells into the line be out of the realm of possibilities.

  1. Fuel Source

Have it in mind that aside from chafing dishes which are fuelled by standalone heat sources, there are both gas and electric steam tables in the market. Note that gas and electric steam wells have their pros and cons; however electric steam wells are the standard.

They don’t need a standing pilot, and tend to provide extended mobility to the table. A gas powered steam well is always expected to be connected to a stationary gas line, and though they may not be convenient in some operations, they may be the more efficient option in kitchens that they remain on throughout the day.

  1. Temperature

A handful of steam tables and wells in the market do not only offer heat, but also feature built-in refrigeration. Note that these dual temperature wells can be used to hold food at proper temperatures, irrespective of how hot or cold.

Dual temperature wells are also available in many of the same sizes and configurations as standard hot and cold wells, including built-in models. Nonetheless, note that built-in dual temperature or refrigerated cold wells are significantly larger than hot wells because they have an attached condenser/compressor.

  1. Accessories

Before buying your steam table, it is advisable to double check any accessories that may come with or be needed for it. Many steam tables, for instance, come with under shelves or casters, however this is not standard. In addition, there other add-ons that can allow business owners to maximize space in the oft crowded BOH or FOH, such as add-on over shelves, or things like drain kits which can be tremendous time savers.


Always remember that the right serving temperature ensures food has great flavour and texture, but more importantly, it prevents the spread of bacteria responsible for food borne illness. In the US, foods are expected to be held outside of 41-140 degrees Fahrenheit, and quality culinary craftsmen take this very seriously. So it’s really important to get a reliable steam table, at least, if you want to keep your restaurant open.